Bet: ‘Rap-It-Up’ For Hiv, Aids

Byline: Shirley Brady

BET’s Rap-It-Up HIV and AIDS awareness campaign is more than just a clever play on words. It also embodies the very heart and soul of what BET represents in the African-American community. “We did considerable research and decided if we had to pick one major thing that would have some major impact and longevity, this would be it,” says Michael Lewellen, BET’s VP of corporate communications. “Once we decided this was it, we put a lot of time and direction into this.”

“BET has been in existence for 22 years and we were looking for a way to really give back to our community,” adds Jackie Willis, VP of public affairs and events. “HIV and AIDS awareness could not be more critical, as the statistics are so devastating.”

The network’s call to action was the Centers for Disease Control statistic that AIDS is the leading cause of death among African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. One in 50 African-American men now have HIV; to make matters even more urgent, the CDC says African-American youths now account for more than 50% of new AIDS cases among 13- to 19-year-olds in the U.S., despite only representing 15% of American teens.

So the network crafted a plan, spearheaded by Willis and Rap-It-Up project manager Vikki Johnson, to educate and motivate viewers in addition to local residents in inner-city, urban communities.

Their goal was to leverage the BET brand in order to address the increasing disparity in incidences of HIV and AIDS among African-Americans versus other communities, dispel myths about the disease and create a positive environment surrounding the issue, making it easier for people to go get tested.

With rap star Ja Rule as the campaign’s spokesperson, the network created a series of PSAs and special programming, from documentaries to teen summits. More resources are provided online at and at the toll-free Rap-It-Up hotline at 866-RAP-IT-UP.

BET has also partnered with community-based AIDS service organizations to conduct testing, distribute prevention materials and coordinate referrals and counseling. Nationally, they work with the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Magic Johnson Foundation, XAIDS, One Voice, Cable Positive and LifeBeat.

To target particularly at-risk teens, the network held teen forums during the 2002 BET Road Tour to further spread the word. The campaign’s eye-catching logo also adorns clothing, teddy bears and snazzy condom cases to help make AIDS awareness cool among kids.

At community forums, entertainment is provided while a traveling HealthMobile disseminates information to up to 40 visitors a day, providing health services such as exams, anonymous HIV/AIDS testing and post-test counseling. At the “Unity in the Community” event held in Washington, D.C., in June, for instance, BET on-air talents Gerard Henry and Tiffany hosted a concert while visitors could also participate in on-site testing and meet with health counselors.

Local affiliates receive art and advertising that can be tagged with their logos and get opportunities to sponsor events and promote the HealthMobile in their communities. This fall teachers can tap into a Rap-It-Up AIDS- and HIV-related curriculum developed for use by Cable in the Classroom.

“Information is so critical, so this campaign is very much info-based,” says Johnson.

All that hard work since the campaign launched on World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) in 2000 has clearly paid off. To date, the Rap-It-Up hotline has received more than half a million calls. More than 1,200 youths have participated in Rap-It-Up’s teen forums, and more than 1,500 people have been tested during the network’s community visits.

The hotline and website also see a huge spike in traffic after the network airs HIV/AIDS-related programming such as The Naked Truth, a documentary that won the 2002 Cable Positive POP Award for outstanding news magazine series. Under One Roof: Face of AIDS, a BET Nightly News special, also won the 2002 Pop Award for outstanding news coverage.

The 2002 NAMIC Excellence Award is just the latest in a string of accolades, with other awards from the Cable Television Public Affairs Association, CTAM, the NAACP and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. But more importantly, the campaign continues to make an impact on communities most at risk and in need of testing and education.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Access Intelligence, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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